Cover image for complications of tonsillitis

People with tonsillitis have repeated episodes of tonsillitis leading to the problem being chronic. Not only the condition becomes chronic but it also gives rise to other medical conditions that can disrupt the normal way of being. 

The major cause of tonsillitis is either a viral infection or bacterial infection such as strep throat. It’s not a big deal as it can be cured within a week with antibiotics. Although there are home remedies that can help in managing some of the complications. But it is wise to visit an ENT doctor as some complications require medical attention. (Also Read: 10 Most Common Causes for Sore throat )

Our Pristyn Care doctor says, “Tonsillitis caused by bacterial infections does not cure on its own and they continue to worsen over time.Consult a doctor if tonsillitis  does not clear up on its own within a week.

Below mentioned are 5 complications that can occur in people who repeatedly suffer from tonsillitis or the problem becomes chronic. 

  1. Lead to Sleep Apnea Temporarily

    Difference between normal sleeping and sleep apnea
    Sometimes tonsillitis can get so enlarged that it can cause obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)  which causes disrupted breathing while sleeping. This occurs due to blockage of the upper part of the windpipe.

    Chronic tonsillitis prevents oxygen from reaching the brain that leads to disrupted sleeping patterns. This disturbed sleep pattern leads to poor sleep quality and feeling lethargic throughout the day. According to research, sleep apnea is closely associated with a high number of deaths due to cardiovascular issues.

  2. Spread to the Ear and Become an Infection

    Our ENT doctor Dr. Siddharth explains that there is a large visible collection of lymphoid tissue known as the Waldeyer’s tonsillar ring (including the palatine, adenoid, tubal and lingual tonsils) at the back of the throat.

    He adds that when these tissues get infected, these increase in size. Next to adenoid tissues which is part of the tonsils, the Eustachian tube(cavity in the middle ear) is located.

    Dr. Siddharth says, “During tonsillitis, the adenoid tissues can become swollen and block the Eustachian tube leading to a buildup of pressure in the ear. Furthermore, fluid can get collected in this cavity which can also get infected.” Therefore, another complication of tonsillitis is an ear infection. (Also Read: 10 Home Remedies for Swollen Adenoids )

  3. Can Cause a Peritonsillar Abscess or Quinsy

    Peritonsillar abscesses
    When there are repeated episodes of tonsillitis, it is termed as chronic tonsillitis. It can also be defined as any of the following-
    – Tonsillitis that occurs 5 to 7 times in a year
    – Occurs at least 5 times in the last two years
    – Occurs at least 3 times in the last three years

    When tonsillitis or strep throat is left untreated, it can lead to tonsillar cellulitis. This cellulitis can spread to the surrounding area and lead to the formation of pus-filled abscesses also known as Peritonsillar abscess. If the abscesses may become so large that they compress the airways which can be very painful.

    Doctors cure this by draining out the pus and giving antibiotics to relieve out the pain.

  4. If Caused by Strep, can lead to Rheumatic Fever

    Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes soreness in the throat and makes the voice hoarse. The infection can spread further to the tonsils and ultimately cause tonsillitis. Doctors believe that delaying the treatment of tonsillitis due to strep throat can cause the bacteria to spread to the blood and cause rheumatic fever.

    This is a disorder mainly affecting children belonging to the age group of 6 and 16 in which there is inflammation throughout the body. This is serious because if the infection leads to rheumatic heart disease (inflammation of the heart valve), it can permanently affect your life. (Also Read: Learn how good is tonsillectomy for a child )

  5. Lead to Kidney Complications

    Man holding the back due to kidney problems
    Throat infections such as tonsillitis can cause problems with the kidney too. One such issue is Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis which is characterized by smoky or rust-colored urine. Children are more prone to developing this complication than adults.

    There’s nothing to worry about as this complication is easily treated with antibiotics. In very rare cases, there can be long term kidney damage in the future.

What To Do?

Chronic tonsillitis is different from acute tonsillitis in the sense that these cannot be simply treated with the administration of antibiotics. Some ENT doctors try shrinking the tonsils with medicines and antibiotics as the first line of treatment. But in most of the cases, it either fails to deliver the desired results or the side effects outweigh their benefits.

For recurring episodes of tonsillitis, doctors recommend removing the tonsils as well as adenoids surgically. If the tonsillitis is in kids, you can consult with your doctor first to decide if the surgery is the right choice. 

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